22 May 2009

Multilingual drama as dominant culture

In Raymond Williams's often-used classification of types of culture (residual, dominant, emergent), multilingual literature is clearly the emergent and (at least in the genre of drama) may already be the dominant form that literary writing is taking. Here is an observation that, from my own experience of watching plays from all over the world, is accurate:

"In the post-colonial world, creative writing for multilingual audiences flourished where readers (or viewers) could appreciate it. In Anglophone communities where many languages are in widespread use, dramatic performances for stage or television have achieved sophisticated effects through the use of several languages. Some plays offer the option of scenes not in English (for instance, Kee Thuan Chye’s Malaysian play, We Could *** You, Mr. Birch). Others employ scripts with a mixture of languages (for instance, Stella Koh’s monologue for a Singaporean audience, Emily of Emerald Hill, employs fragments in Hokkien, Cantonese, Malay, Hindi, and even African-American English of the American south). Such works make local use of global English." (p. 355 of Richard W. Bailey’s “English among the Languages,” in The Oxford History of English [2006], edited by Lynda Mugglestone).

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